Saturday, March 26, 2016

Gabon Ministries Update- Easter 2016

Ok- so this is going to get a bit wordy, but hang in there with me...

Since August of 2008, our hearts have become intertwined with our friends in Gabon.  We went there with the hopes of bringing an aviation service that could enhance the work of the national church.  Over the past 8 years, we've had our share of ups and downs (pilot humor- sorry!), but we're blessed that the aviation program is steadily maturing into a strong role of service.


One of the best aspects of our time in Gabon has been watching the maturity of the national church.  Just prior to our arrival, the main force of international workers had transitioned out of the country.  They were no longer needed- the national network of churches were planted and growing and now new Gabonese disciples were seeing a second generation of Jesus-followers rise up in their faith communities.  Trained pastors were leading churches and seeking the Lord for future ministry.  Only a limited number of international Alliance workers stayed behind, mostly involved in specialized, medical work through the Bongolo Hospital.

These departing missionaries were doing ministry "for" the people when they arrived, but as the worked progressed, it became a shared journey- they were ministering "with" the Gabonese.  That's healthy marks of sustainable, international work.

From time to time, I reflect on this aspect of the aviation program in Gabon.  In the first chapters of work, it's been a "for them", approach.  This is simply by necessity- in this region of the world, there simply are not the local resources and capacity that can foster a small, humanitarian-style, aviation work.

Is it possible to move to a "with" approach in the aviation program?  Yes- and we already do, in some ways.  When our flights delivered mosquito nets to the town of Oyem, in the North, it was a local church pastor the went with the flight and delivered the nets- we simply facilitated that.  When our flights performed a medevac flight of badly injured women from the town of Makokou, in the East, to the Bongolo Hospital, it was a Gabonese nurse that joined the flight to supervise the transport- we simply facilitated transport.  As the airplane transports visiting medical professionals to training programs, they are equipping Africans, largely from the central African region, to be the ones to give care, in the name of Jesus, to their fellow Africans.

That's a start, but a fully developed "with" program would be one in which Gabonese empowered in all facets of the work- piloting and maintaining the aircraft, dispatching, administration- the whole thing.  Are we there yet?  Not by a long shot.  What will it take?

First and foremost, it will take a shared vision, not just a foreigner transplanting a their vision, even if sent from a broader family of people.  It will be local leadership seeing the value and taking a role at the helm of the ship.

Last month, as Sean (MAG CEO) and I met with the national Alliance leadership in Libreville, they affirmed the role of aviation in serving the growing vision that they sensed the Lord revealing to them.  The church is putting greater emphasis on community health education and care as a practical way to demonstrate the Gospel message in every corner of their country and beyond.  As we looked at the map of Gabon, they pointed out the regions where there still is no local faith community and where they are called to go.  MAG just happens to already have a curriculum of health care training, primarily focused on first responder and flight nurse care.  This training will allow more "with" ministry in our aviation program.

They also have renewed effort behind the social work campus being developed on the outskirts of the capital city of Libreville, known as P-K-27.  They have appointed a pastor (and good friend!) to head this work and released him to visit all the churches to share the vision.  There is a runway, hangar, and classroom space planned there.  This is a great environment for more "with" ministry.

Pastor Jacob (pictured) is a wonderful man of God who realizes that it's not about him- but about the community of faith, coming together, listening to God's heart, and working in a unified way that is attractive to a world looking for hope.

Pastor Jacob (center) went with us to visit Hope House, as well.  On the left is Mama Natalie and Pastor Israel, who are the "parents" of over 50 children under one roof.  On behalf of the national church, Jacob facilitates the Hope House sponsorship program, through E4 Project's help.  When we first met Pastor Israel in 2008, it was always a struggle to keep the children in proper facilities and eating well- so much so that he was working 2 other jobs, at times.  Now, he no longer needs to do that- a testimony to the national church being committed to setting a vision of healthy partnerships.

Then, it was on to Hands of Grace, sewing and craft ministry, also under the oversight of Pastor Jacob, and also supported through an E4 Project partnership.  These ladies our FULL of JOY!  An Alliance church from Ohio (New Bremen) has a very special connection with this ministry.

After some time in Libreville, it was time to hit the road, 550 kilometers South to Bongolo Hospital... about a 9 hour drive.  We were really missing our airplane which was not flying due to a scheduled maintenance event.  In our Cessna 207 aircraft, it's only about 1.6 hours!

Bongolo Hospital continues to grow!  Here is their newest project, an expanded eye clinic!

On average, 40,000 patients are seen at Bongolo per year.  Many will come into the emergency room (pictured here) to be greeted by our teammates, ready to care for them with compassion and love.
As with most African medical facilities, family members come to keep the bed sheets clean and the patient fed well.  Here is one of the four areas at Bongolo where food is prepared on fires.

Left to Right:  Rob P. (Gabon base manager), Sean D. (Missionary Air Group CEO), Pastor Serge B. (Bongolo Hospital Director), and me.  Speaking of "with", ministry, a core piece of the work at the Bongolo Hospital is training.  Since the campus is basically a small city, there are wide array of jobs once done by foreigners, now with Africans at the helm. For this to happen, on going training is essential.  Serge affirmed that aviation is a key part of the services at Bongolo for the future as well as how happy he is with Rob's teamwork.
Henrika at the controls!


One of my favorite flights in Gabon was when we flew our "Hope Flights"- medical transport for some of the at-risks children from the Hope House to Bongolo.  On one flight, Henrika was my co-pilot (see picture).  At the time she was a 15 year-old aspiring pilot.  I had to ask the question, however- what chance does Henrika have to enter into the field of aviation?

With the arrival of Missionary Air Group to support the work and implement their core value of engaging nationals through training and equipping, we have the first step toward our "with" phase.  With the momentum that is building with the national Alliance church in Gabon toward a social works campus that includes training facilities, we sense that we are on the cusp of great collaboration.

I've chatted with a number of mission aviation organizations about how they are doing at ministry "with" the people in the countries that they serve.  There are some that endeavor to make it a priority, however, they are very few.  Resources are scarce and staffing is a major need.  AMB in Gabon is no different.


As mentioned, with the desire of the national church to have community based health education and care along with MAG's curriculum, we're seeing steps on how to see more Gabonese involved with the work.  After this step, we wonder how the next step might look to have Gabonese working in the hangar as technicians and in the cockpit as pilots.  It seems like an impossible dream, but then we see how far this program has come and know that, as the Lord provides open doors, it can be possible.

In the region, we are inspired by other, like-minded, aviation programs.  I invite you to watch the following video about a training program in Ghana for women.

As I watch this story of Africa's first female pilot, Patricia Maluwi, I'm inspired and hopeful for young girls like Henrika.

Missionary Air Group has been asked to develop a missionary pilot apprenticeship curriculum (the first of its kind!) to help with one of the biggest problems facing missions today- college debt.  Many young people are graduating with the degrees and training necessary to be deployed to the mission field, but, along with it is a load of school loan debt.  Until that debt is payed, living abroad and serving in missions remains out of their grasp.  Many get other jobs to pay off the debt, but by the time the debts are paid, many have lost the fervor and vision.

In the mission aviation field, young people can graduate with upwards to $100,000 of college debt.  I know because I was one of those people- my flight training ended in 1993 and I couldn't consider mission work until 2006.  MAG's innovative apprenticeship program provides the aviation flight training through a sponsorship program in partnership with Mission Maintenance Service Aviation (OH).  

Could this apprenticeship program be the model for the next step in Gabon?  I'm hopeful.

Where is Henrika?  She's almost through high school... ready for the next step in life.  We are praying with her and we are ready to see how we can help MAG in this development.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Alliance Conference - Thailand

Since about week 2 or 3 of my life, I've been attending Alliance churches in the US.  Alace and I had the great privilege of serving on staff at 3 different Alliance churches (most recently, York Alliance- our sending church) while on that side of the ocean.  Then, in 2007, when we moved internationally, the "marketplace ministries" branch of the Alliance approved our assignment.  It's a great family to be part of and we love to gather with our colleagues.

We weren't certain about the timing of the forum (early February)- we had some other travel coming up, but marketplace ministries leaders urged us to come, so... how could we say no?!?  You didn't have to push us too hard to pack a bag and hang out in Thailand for a week!

Stop over in Bangkok... 6.4 million people is just a bit bigger than the 1.8 million
of Yaounde or the 800,000 of Libreville that we're used to!

The Sunday prior to the conference, we worshipped at ECB-
Evangelical Church of Bangkok, where our good friend David K. pastors.
We had just learned, two weeks prior, that he was joining our
conference as the main speaker!

Over 150 gathered to share their reports and get great teaching and
practical assistance from workshops.  Oh yeah... there was some
time for a bit of rest and relaxation!

Asia was very well represented!  Everyone placed a marker
to indicate where they were working.

Here are our sweet friends, Asun and Jon Neff.  They've been loving, caring, and
coaching us during our time with mm.  They live in western Europe.

We attended the first mm forum, in Spain, with this couple (Stephen &
Anna) and all our children, back in 2011.  They've also been
working in central Africa, blessing others through the tool of health care.

Seating in the public transportation is sometimes at a premium, so hanging off the back
is your only choice, as Alace demonstrates!

Night Market at Cha Am.

The opportunity to be encouraged and refreshed with other Alliance
colleagues was so good for us.  We're blessed to be part of a
great movement.
Thanks for sharing this journey with us!
We can only continue with your teamwork.

Update From the Flight Deck- March

It's important for any organization to have a solid foundation and grounding.  However, we're feeling a bit TOO grounded of late...

Our Cessna 207 is hanging out at our partner base in Yaounde, Cameroon- SIL.
Our chief pilot, Rob, was conducting a 100 hour inspection.

However, the circuit breaker for the "DG" (HSI) kept popping every time we would turn on the avionics power.
So, Rob gutted most of our avionics bay and began to troubleshoot but, after a lot of work with no solutions, we started thinking about options.  We've replaced this gyro instrument twice in the past and we'd love to end that cycle- it's getting expensive.  Plan B looks like this...

This is the Sandel SG102- it removes the need for a spinning gyro (the part that keeps malfunctioning), making it much more durable and reliable in the high-vibration environment of a Cessna aircraft.  So, we ordered it and waited for delivery.

The Sandel unit came relatively quickly as luggage with our good friend, Pastor Serge Batouboko, the Director of Bongolo Hospital in Gabon!  He was traveling to Cameroon for meetings and stopped by the SIL hangar.  It's always great to hang out with Serge- he's a huge blessing and supporter of AMB Gabon!

Now, the unit is installed and the tedious task of lining up all the wires in the pins and connectors is happening with the help of Franklin W., the new SIL rotor-wing pilot and mechanic.

It's a lot more work than was let on from the description, but Rob is determined!  Please pray that we're able to finish up quickly and get N207FD back in service in Gabon.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Bongolo Eye Clinic Story

Our Friends, Eric and Wendy, share the following story for the Bongolo Hospital Eye Clinic:

Here is a picture of a recent eye clinic patient.  She is from Mali but now lives here, in Gabon.  

She was blind in both eyes and, in our capital city of Libreville, she was told by an ophthalmologist that she would never see again.  

However, other people told her that God is at work at Bongolo Hospital, so she came to us.  We operated, and now she can see well again!  

She knows that this healing came from Jesus, and said that she would put her trust in Him if it weren’t for her family and her entire social structure that follows her home country's majority religion.  Please pray for her courage and salvation.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

New "Home Team"- Missionary Air Group

For those following our journey closely, you know that our primary aviation sponsor for our work, starting way back in 2007, was Air Calvary.  Without this courageous, pioneering team, under the leadership of Mr. Brock Barrett, our work in Africa would not have launched.

Left to R: Me,  Rev. Victor Ndoukou (president of Gabon
C&MA), and MAG CEO Sean Donnelly.
With the maturation and growth of the project, Air Calvary has passed the baton to Missionary Air
Group (MAG) from North Carolina.   MAG brings critical pieces to the table to assist our work in Gabon:  full-time fundraising and CEO, Mr. Sean Donnelly, a board of directors with robust experience in mission aviation, over a decade of experience in aero-medical operations in the mission context, and recruiting capabilities, to name a few.

MAG CEO, Sean, made it a priority to visit the Gabon program and start building relationships.  His first trip was in February and Alace and I were there to give him a tour and meet with friends.

We started with a meeting with the leadership of the C&MA in Gabon.  We heard these Godly leaders describe a growing strategy to reach the far corners of their country and the globe in word and deed.  They want to see their leaders trained to bless their communities in practical ways- health education and care being the primary approach.

In Guatemala and Honduras, MAG has operations that are like-minded.  A curriculum to train nationals in primary health care, with a component on aero-medical care, has already been produced.

After meeting a bunch more people in Libreville, it was time to travel south, where our aviation program, Aviation M├ędicale de Bongolo (AMB), is based.  Since our aircraft is currently down for an inspection and some avionics upgrades, we got to take the 9 hour drive.

We paid a visit to the equator sign, and stop off at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital, among other things.

We also caught up with the OSPAC team conducting a mobile medical clinic!

At Bongolo Hospital, we met up with our AMB base manager, Rob P., and the rest of the team dedicating themselves to serve this remote region of the world with the love of Jesus.

Bongolo Hospital sees 40,000 patients a year- each one hears and sees the message of Jesus during their visit.  On average, 1000 per month make decisions to follow Christ.

Left to R:  Rob Peterson, Sean D., Rev. Serge Batobouko, Me.

It was so good to meet with the director of Bongolo Hospital, Pastor Serge Batobouko.  He continues to support aviation efforts to expand and enhance the work of the hospital.  Serge was happy to meet Sean and hear about MAG's plans to respond to the needs of the hospital and national church.

Sean has verified that Missionary Air Group is 110% behind AMB and will adopt the work fully, as it does with its bases in Central America.  

Sunday, March 13, 2016

From Nyack, With Love

We had a great visit with our favorite (and only) daughter over the holidays!

There are certain perks to wearing a pilot outfit at the airport- ask me about it sometime.

There was a lot of catching up with old friends....

Conelia was Megan's Auntie (and cook!) throughout her time living in the UBAC dorm house while a student at the Rain Forest International School, here in Yaounde Cameroon.

"Nanny" Megan did some reconnecting too!

A visit to one of our favorite restaurants, La Salsa, was in order!

... and plenty of time with momma!

And then we had to say a sad goodbye and Megan returned to the reality of Nyack, New York....

Oh my!  How time flies.  Seems like just yesterday we were doing this...

Visit to NorthWest SIL Cameroon Aviation Base

After 8 bone-jarring, dusty hours of this...

We got to visit these wonderful people...
Mark & Jessica Spangler with Alace and I at their home in Kumbo, Cameroon.

The Spangler family lives in the NW region of Cameroon just next to the Banso Baptist Hospital.  They've just welcomed their 5th child into their family, baby Haddassah.  They love being a blessing to those around them... and they make delicious coffee grown in the mountains nearby (7000 ft. + elevation).  For my special assignment as Program Manager in Cameroon for SIL Aviation, it's an honor to be on the same team as the Spanglers and get to serve them.

The 4-seat Robinson R-44 Helicopter that serves the region

The helicopter that Mark flies in the region is an important link for scripture translations to the literally dozens of languages there.  The chopper is also networked with the Baptist hospitals and clinics in the area and is used with mobile medical clinics and many medical evacuations- saving lives.  A 45 minute ride in the helicopter can save a drive of many, many hours or days.

This photo is actually looking downhill.  The runway has at least a 5% grade- the end of the runway drops off into the valley below.  If you look close, you can see the windsock off the end of the strip.
Megan and Sam, our kids, joined some of the Spangler kids in doing a bit of "runway inspection" while kicking a soccer ball and throwing the frisbee.  There is a bit of a dogleg at the top of the slope that the program has in mind to straighten out to add about 200 more meters to the length.

We enjoyed the visit to build relationships with the Spanglers and catch a glimpse of the environment that they're living and serving in.  We have some good ideas on how to assist them as they get ready to receive a new teammate, a pilot/mechanic, in just a few more weeks.  It was well worth the bumpy ride!